Virtual Education Needs More than Just Zoom to be Successful

Education Tech Featured Smartphone Tech

The fall semester is only weeks away, and while many schools have already announced they will be going virtual again, more are still hoping to be able to move forward with in-person education.  Some colleges and universities, while planning on allowing students on campuses, have allowed professors to determine the format for their classes.  Ultimately, it’s likely that many more classes will be taught virtually in the fall than have currently been announced.

As we saw during the first few months of this pandemic, virtual education is a challenge, and creating an online experience that comes close to an in-person education isn’t easy, especially without the right tools.  Just logging into Zoom or Google Meet or whatever other conferencing services schools may be using isn’t always enough.

Realizing the current reality that virtual classes are going to happen in many more secondary and higher education institutions than may have been anticipated two months ago, iClicker and Perusall have launched a partnership that will help educators create an interactive learning environment that will much more closely mirror what students and educators are used to.

Perusall is social learning platform that delivers reading and video assignments to students before they come to class. The platform combines content with collaborative annotation tools that both teachers and students can use to add instructions, ask questions, or highlight important sections of text.  Perusall also tracks student progress through the materials.  The intent is to increase engagement through the assignments and also to help teachers understand where students need more help with the course material, so those areas can be addressed during class time. 

Teachers can create their own course materials, adopt published books or other resources, but Perusall is also working with a variety of major textbook publishers to offer virtual textbook rental to make it easier for students to access their course materials.  Publishers working with Perusall include:

  • Broadview Press
  • Cambridge University Press
  • Hackett Publishing Company
  • McFarland
  • McGraw-Hill Education
  • Oxford University Press
  • Princeton University Press
  • SAGE
  • Springer
  • Taylor and Francis (including Routledge and CRC Press)
  • University Science Books
  • Wiley
  • W. W. Norton & Company

Where the interactivity really comes into play is with the iClicker partnership.  iClicker allows instructors to not only take attendance easily, but facilitates active learning through quizzes and tests through the platform.  

Teachers can create quizzes in advance, or they can add them on the fly during class.  Questions can be created in a variety of formats, including polls, multiple choice, short answer, numeric, and target questions (students click on the screen to answer, such as identifying a specific country on a picture of a map or diagram).

 Students can use laptops, mobile devices, or iClicker remotes to participate, and questions can be graded instantly (or after the fact) and will be stored on students’ devices, creating instant study guides. 

Through integration with many learning management systems, grades from quizzes can be uploaded into student records, simplifying that process for teachers.

A psychology professor at the University of Louisville started using Perusall and iClicker during the most recent spring semester, when the pandemic hit and classes went virtual and says the two solutions have help her create an active learning environment that closely resembles her in-person teaching.

“Before iClicker, it was very difficult to get input from all of my students and before Perusall it was a struggle to get students to read the material.  Once class moved online due to COVID-19, students in my class quickly found a rhythm of beginning discussions with Perusall asynchronously and then responding with iClicker questions during synchronous sessions to dive deeper into opinions in class.  Using both together really impacted learning and engagement for the entire class.”

Edna Ross, PhD

Just as in an in-person environment, students know they have to complete the assigned reading and participate in group discussions – iClicker works with most video conferencing solutions – because they know the iClicker polls, questions, and quizzes will relate to those materials.  “It will be obvious if they are not prepared,” says Dr. Ross.

While most people don’t yet believe in virtual education, that’s largely because teachers have either not used or been given the right tools.  With a complete set of tools that includes digital course materials, video conferencing, and interactivity, students are likely to remain engaged and will get a better education – even if it’s from their homes or dorm rooms.